Roberto Esposito’s Living Thought is exquisitely written work, filled with delightfully poetic turns of phrase that bring his philosophical subjects to vivacious life. It genuinely is a joy to read and I would gladly commend it to even non-specialist readers. Like other books of its type, in introducing an number of figures I had previously not been exposed to in detail as well as being furnished with rich footnotes, the work represents a jumping off point for further consideration of Italian philosophy, perhaps even mapping out a distinctive future programme of research. One could consider reading other claims of the “Italian difference” that preceding this work, for example Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno’s collection (Virno is interestingly is unmentioned here) Radical Thought In Italy through the various constructs that Esposito presents here. Indeed, the discussion of Antonio Negri and Mario Tronti appears to suggest this strategy. For example, Esposito states that Italian philosophy was a form that was distinctively anti-state in its orientation due to the historical lack of a centralised Italian state – Italian radical politics appears to similarly orientate itself against the state.
In an earlier post, Adam asked if other philosophers could be potentially be consider “honorary Italians” by virtue of their philosophical writings illustrating the same factors that Esposito locates as being especially Italian characteristics and traces from the renaissance to the present day. I wonder more if there is a danger of Esposito’s claim that Italian philosophy presents a unique relationship between philosophy and life that would encourage readers to believe that for the remainder of European thought can be read through the Heideggerian quip on the lives of philosopher: “He was born, he thought, he died”. For Esposito, Italian philosophy situates itself uniquely by collapsing the relationship which allows him in part to include artists (Leonard da Vinci), writers (Dante) and film makers (Pasolini) in his canon precisely because Italian thought is about the lived life, the political life, even biological life, not abstract thought that divorces from the conflictual, historical or corporal dimensions of living. Which is to say, Esposito’s canon of philosophers lived lives. One can think of the political involvement in the life of court of the key figure of Machiavelli here as an exemplar.
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